Here's to Hope

So I love the church and I love learning. I've always sought out continuing education opportunities for my role as a Pastor. Four years ago that led me to go all in, as it were, and start work on a Doctor of Ministry degree. 

My aim was to research my first love in academia, the topic of my first class in seminary: evangelism. I believe we are in the middle of the greatest shift in our world since Martin Luther and the Great Reformation. (Read Phyllis Tickle's fantastic The Great Emergence for more on that.) I feel so blessed to be called at this point in history and wanted to do some of the rebuilding work required to reform the church after the evangelism abuses brought about by the death throes of the previous era. (Can anyone say "televangelism in the 80s?" Proof that God can work even through our most misguided efforts!) 

As it turned out, what I realized was that most of our churches (I write as a U.S. mainline protestant) aren't ready for a new kind of evangelism yet. Evangelism at its core is a sharing of hope and I realized that too many of us don't have hope to share-- or, more precisely, our hope is too incomplete to talk about sharing it well. 

Then came my breakthrough: I discovered a large body of hope psychology that had never been brought into the church. I mean seriously, we're the hope people! How could this research have been around for decades and not been brought together with theology? And so I set out to explain why our hope was incomplete (spoiler alert: decades of decline kills a people's hope, though naturally, it's more nuanced than that) and propose ways to restore it. 

I got my doctorate (here's a paper version, if you're interested)-- and an awesome new church, one that already had its hope restored and that seemed like the perfect place to continue my research to see how hope was involved in people discovering God and faith for the first time or discovering it anew. 

Then, COVID-19 hit. For months my brain was operating at 3/4 capacity at best. (Frankly, it still is!) But as I think about my hope research, I'm realizing that what decline did to the church is now playing out in society at large as we wrestle with this novel coronavirus-- we are at risk of losing our hope. Something similar might even be happening in our politics and economy, though that's pretty far beyond my expertise. 

This blog will be many things, I hope, but at its core I want it to be an avenue through which I can share what I've learned about hope with those who need it: pastors and laypeople of churches in decline and, frankly, anyone anywhere who would like to understand how hope plays out in their life. 

That said, this is also a personal blog where I will also talk about my family, my hobbies, my ministry, and who knows what else. The reason for this is simple: theology happens in life, HOPE happens in life. What I'm doing here is a riff on what academics call "Practical Theology--" theology that emerges from life and returns to it with fresh thought, though admittedly in a more organic (read: less orderly) fashion. So, why not include the rest of my life to provide opportunity for reflection, whether or not it directly connects? 

So here's to hope. Let's complete ours together.